FESTIVAL REVIEW: Joep Beving, St George’s Church

Pausing between batches of his short, spare piano compositions, Joep (pronounced ‘Yoop’) recounts his discovery of the ‘tuning war’ raging amongst rival sonic aficionados around the globe. His exploration of the universal, perhaps transcendental meanings behind ‘frequency’ led him to centre his piano around the frequency of 432 hertz, 8Hz down from the 440Hz concert standard. He experiences this as a ‘heart’ frequency, with 440Hz remaining around the ‘head’ or intellect.

Beving is earnest in his pursuit of musical and emotional purity. Presenting himself as a hirsute, hipster take on the classical pianist – all jeans and suede boots beneath a knee-length black coat recalling the traditional tail coat – he lays bare the inner guts of his upright piano as if to show us the heart of his musical striving.

More contemplative than meditative, Beving’s pieces follow their own internal narratives (he calls them ‘songs’). The threads they trace are deliberate, pursuing serenity but pausing to consider surges of melancholy, eddying resignation and restless uncertainty.

The compositions are at their best when at their most ambient or impressionistic, when dominant melody falls away and no theme is imposed over the landscapes and exquisite, cascading environments his ringing chords and repeating constellations of notes evoke.

But there is also a strand of artifice that Joep Beving seems unable to escape, epitomised in the mannered, deliberate presentation of himself and his instrument. Laying bare the piano’s workings is not laying bare the soul of music, it is exposing the mechanism by which Beving attempts the approach. That said, witnessing Beving’s pursuit of essence, of transcendental truth concealed within music (perhaps) – a truth easy to romanticise but far harder to grasp – is an emotional, enthralling experience.

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